We are just about a week away from the arrival of Marvel Studios’ most unlikely buddy cop duo, “Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” Easily one of the most anticipated series coming to Disney+, the prospect of the show was actually one of the reasons I was keen to purchase the streaming service in the first place.
Of course, the pandemic threw just about everything into chaos, mucking up release schedules that were clearly set in motion years ahead and leaving the studio scrambling and guessing all over the place to re-plot the course. With that, we were given “WandaVision” as the first foray into Phase 4 of the MCU. This was not the original intention, and was launched first out of circumstance rather than actual forethought.
With “WandaVision” setting the bar for all shows after it, this in turn leaves “Falcon and the Winter Soldier“ in a precarious position, one that comes with an unwarranted amount of expectations that has the potential to lead to unnecessary disappointment. See, “WandaVision” wasn’t just good, it was every bit as different and unique as it promised it would be. It pushed the limits of what to expect from the MCU to begin with, and regardless of where you fell on the love it or leave it scale, the show charted into new territory and a new directions for the entire Marvel universe moving forward.
With that in mind, we have to ask: What the hell do we do with something like “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” coming on these heels? A show that by all accounts harkens back to more familiar, formulaic superhero stories that Marvel seems be more than willing and capable to deviate from?
The answer is….well, it’s complicated. I’ve already read a number of think pieces that imply that the success of “WandaVision” somehow sets up “Falcon and the Winter Solider” for failure. While I sort of understand this sentiment, I think it’s a bit unfair to both shows. So let’s see if we can’t make sense of some of these assumptions, and look for ways to manage our expectations for the upcoming series.
Spot the Difference
First and foremost, we have to be cautious about the intent and context of both shows. Something that people often forget when it comes to the success of the MCU (here’s looking at literally everybody else trying to build a universe) is that being connected is secondary to telling a good story. Forget the high profile actors and creators. At its very core, the MCU is successful because it puts strong, coherent narrative as priority 1 and forces everything else to fit around it, including their connections to other films. “Thor: Ragnorok” is a great example; a film deeply connected to those before it and directly tied to the events after it, but perfectly fine to watch all by itself at any time. “Ragnorok” is about THOR first, “Infinity War” second. It can be watched countless times on its own or as a part of a larger rewatch event and still carry the same weight and be enjoyed the same as well.
This applies here because as much as “WandaVision” sets up a number of major films coming out this year and sets the course for Phase 4, it is still and will always be about Wanda and her grief. Despite everything else around it, the central narrative of the show is deeply embedded in a woman who lost everything and is desperately trying to deal with that emotionally. Anything else the show gives us is completely secondary, and is also why it is wrong to expect “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” to have the same kind of impact.
It can’t and it won’t because we already know that grief and loss and trauma aren’t at the heart of the show. Simply by the nature of the show itself, we know that these aren’t going to be the central themes, so to expect it to have the same kind of impact is asking too much of the upcoming show by assigning it too much of the show before it. They are two separate stories that HAPPEN to exist in the same universe, and we as viewers have to be ok with both. The MCU needs grief and dark shows as much as it needs lighthearted superhero frienemy banter. We have to be able to spot the difference (see what I did there) and accept that they are and were always going to be extremely different shows that exist in the same universe.
So now that we’ve established that they are by design different shows in both tone and overall narrative, let’s step back from the haze of the hex and look at “Falcon and the Winter Solider” through its proper lens. In addition to telling good stories, Marvel has a long proven track record of a tried and true superhero formula. Almost nothing up UNTIL “WandaVision” has really strayed from this, and we’ve been more than fine with that for over a decade now. So just because one show needed to take a turn and set a certain kind of precedent doesn’t mean EVERYTHING should follow suit. Marvel is still very much “Superheroes for the Masses” and regardless of any new directions they plan to take in the future, abandoning this method altogether is downright foolish and the fastest way to failure.
By expecting “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” to be like “WandaVision” you’re setting yourself up for a disappointment that doesn’t need to happen. “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” looks to be very much in line with what has done gangbusters for Marvel since their inception, so if you think for one second they aren’t going to give you more of what’s been working time and time again, the jokes on you. And here’s the real kicker: that’s perfectly fine and we should be just as excited to get more of what we’ve loved already. I’m stoked to see what else Marvel can do in the veins of “WandaVision,” but I don’t all of phase 4 to be dreary, dark look into grief, even if it eventually means that love is persevering (I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself). Give me banter, explosions, a villainous plot, and some good old fashioned, believe in yourself hero tropes. “Falcon and the Winter Solider” looks like it’s going to deliver on those things, and we should know that in the MCU, it’s big enough for both of them.
High Risk, High Reward
Lastly, by now we all know the immense risk “WandaVision” took to not only exist in the first place, but act as a inadvertent jump start to the new phase of the MCU despite not being what was intended. “Falcon and Winter Soldier” by design was set to be an entry point into the new marvel television world, which is why it feels smaller in scale and less significant as far big universal implications. Look, pandemics happen, and those extenuating circumstances demand a change in approach both from the creators and the viewers. Because “WandaVision” got the jump and payed off HUGE, we too have shift our mindsets around to accommodate. Yes, we should have gotten the cookie cutter superhero romp “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” first then when we’ve all settled into the familiar we get gut punched with “WandaVision.”
But this high risk high reward move to put their strangest foot forward should actually pay off for “Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” By leaving everything up to “WandaVision,” it has inadvertently taken the pressure to be great off of the latter. Oh sure, we want it and expect to be good, but it doesn’t need to literally carry the streaming service and usher in the new era of Marvel consumption. The risk of “WandaVision” has done that already and passed with flying colors, so the reward is being able to just be fun without all the strings attached. If we’re being honest, as much as I loved “WandaVision” I could use the emotional break.
Again, looking at the risk model of reshaping their release order, it seems Marvel knows you need it too, which why the restructuring places “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” in between their two stranger outings. Sure it’s a risk, as many other writers have pointed out, but I think this is one that will pay off huge for the show and still live up to the proper expectations that it deserves and not the ones it’s being weighed up against. Marvel is trusting you to enjoy something for what it is, even if that thing doesn’t introduce X-Men or open up the multiverse.
The point to all of this (if there is one) is to not be so hard on “Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” It’s not “WandaVision” and it was never meant to be, so going into it hoping it will be is wrong and should be reevaluated. “Falcon and Winter Soldier” seems to have the intention of good old fashioned superhero fun baked into it, telling a contained, seeming local story about two more side heroes dealing with their own place in the larger world. So, rather than want it to be more, let’s try and enjoy it as it was intended.
If we separate the two shows into their own contained narratives first and contextualize their overall intent, we can begin to see that there’s no need to pit them against each other. “WandaVision” was a helluva risk that happened to pay off in a big way.
“Falcon and the Winter Soldier” looks to be a much needed return to form so we can catch our breath. So let’s lay off the comparisons to things it’s not and let it have its fun.
Because if you don’t manage those expectations, Kevin Feige has no problem trolling you and turning fan theory Evan Peters into nothing more than a dick joke.
Don’t get trolled again. Just enjoy “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” on its own merits and have some fun. It’ll hit Disney+ on March 19th.